Also by BARBARA A. HOLLAND
After Hours in Bohemia (2020)
Autumn Numbers (1980)
Autumn Wizard (1973)
The Beckoning Eye (2019)
Burrs (1977, 1981)
Collected Poems Volume 1 (1980)
Crises of Rejuvenation (1973-75, 1985)
The Edwardian Poems & The Queen of Swords (1991)
Lens, Light & Sound (1968)
Medusa: The Lost First Chapbook (2019)
Melusine Discovered (1975)
On This High Hill (1974)
Penny Arcana (n.d.)
Running Backwards (1983)
Out of Avernus (2019)
The Secret Agent (2019)
Selected Poems, Volume 1 (2020)
The Shipping on the Styx (2019)
You Could Die Laughing (1975)
Copyright © 1974, 1975, 1986, 2020 by The Poet’s Press
All Rights Reserved
Originally published in several
volumes as Crises of Rejuvenation.
This is the 272nd publication of
THE POET’S PRESS
2209 Murray Ave #3 / Pittsburgh, PA 15217
CRISES OF REJUVENATION, VOLUME 1 (1974)
Personal Values 23
Crises of Rejuvenation 25
Good Morning 27
Rags of Omen 28
An Abominable Breakfast 29
Louder Than Life 30
A Street Throughout The Years 32
Not Nice At All! 35
Vernal Equinox 37
My Old Friend, The Sorcerer 39
Who Goes First? 41
The Best of All Possible Worlds 43
Rag Picker 44
The Inevitable Knife 45
High On Three Cups of Tea 46
As One Possessed 47
Autumn Wizard 48
Midnight On The Esplanade 51
The Breaker 53
Close Call for The Secret Agent 54
The Retractable Booby-Trap 56
Not Now, Wanderer 57
Take Flight to Montreal! 60
The Itinerant Window 62
Who Says 64
CRISES OF REJUVENATION, VOLUME 2 (1975)
Before the Beginning 67
A Covering Letter 68
Entrance Of Origins 69
Not Fungus, No, Never That! 71
Schuylkill Weather 72
Imagine Your Guitar 73
The Raucous Hour 74
The Evening Fish 75
So There, Descartes! 76
Subway Exit 77
Suspense for Days 78
Strike Two 80
The Sound of The Tinkling Cymbals 81
Sustained Enchantment 82
In The Cause of Justice 83
The Iron Urge 85
A Cup of Coffee 86
The Blight 87
Some Day A Sudden Craving 89
A Tryst Beneath a Bird House 91
Home Can Be Anywhere 92
The Brain Walks Close Behind 94
Ancestral Vision 95
This Certain Quaintness 96
The Summer’s Final Season 98
Keeping the Window Closed 100
Shadow Faker 101
The Capricorn Tapestry 102
The Lodger 104
CRISES OF REJUVENATION, 1986 ADDENDUM
The Sorcerer’s Moon 110
Sky Hanger 111
Advance Upon Canaan 112
The Listening Room 117
Where Will It All Begin? 118
The Watcher Awakened 119
Cat’s Cradle 120
Water Baby 121
My Cousin In Vertical Orbit 122
You Never Notice 123
Optical Illusions 124
Enough Of This 125
Bad Company 126
It Must Be A Joke 127
Down Meadow Slope 129
End Of An Era 130
Southward Running 132
Another Season 134
ABOUT THE POET 135
ABOUT THIS BOOK
This publication is the second of two volumes of the selected
works of America’s great imaginative poet, Barbara A. Holland
(1925-1988). It follows upon a 230-page first volume published in early
2020, based on a 1980 production ambitiously titled Collected Poems.
The present volume is dedicated entirely to Holland’s cycle of poems
centered around the paintings of Rene Magritte, originally titled Crises
of Rejuvenation and first published in two volumes in 1974 and 1975,
and then expanded in 1986.
The two volumes of Selected Poems should be regarded as the
poet’s personal choice, rescued from chapbooks and magazines, of
the poems she regarded as her best, in their final form. Some
punctuation changes (commas and hyphens) have been added, in
keeping with my overall editing of the Barbara A. Holland papers that
became available in 2019.
Another new book, After Hours in Bohemia, will collect the
remaining manuscript poems and poems recovered and recon¬
structed from notebooks, as well as several critical reviews and
articles about her and her work.
The original 1974 and 1975 chapbooks of this poetic cycle did not
contain specific references to Magritte other than the title poem, and
two of my own cover designs that emulated Magritte in concept. The
first cover showed an apple setting over a seascape, clearly a tribute
to the Belgian surrealist. The second volume had a line drawing of a
rose extracting its color from a blood transfusion, an illustration of
one of the poems, “Someday A Sudden Craving.”
In retrospect, I think we were remiss in not making the Magritte
connection more clear. Holland’s live audiences knew the poems were
provoked by Magritte because she told them so. Readers who have
never seen Magritte’s paintings, though, have still enjoyed these
poems, but experienced together with a perusal of the painter’s work,
the works take on extra resonance. The reader gains a common visual
and epistemological experience with the poet and can thus participate
more readily in her flights of fancy. In my own case, I found that the
paintings inspired me to render my own impressions, reactions and
interpretations into poems, too. Sometimes, Barbara and I wrote
poetic dialogues with the mysterious painter’s world as our shared
Happily, with the passing of much of Magritte’s paintings into the
public domain (at least for scholarly and derived works such as this
one), we can now present the poems with small images of the paintings.
What is “surrealistic” in the context of these poems? Magritte’s
work differs substantially from what I shall call, for lack of a better
term, the work of “hard” Surrealists. He poked fun at manifestos and
nearly always rooted his paintings in reality. Where some Surrealist
landscapes often look completely alien or even nonrepresentational,
Magritte depicts the strange and inexplicable in a realistic, painterly
manner, centering on the cityscapes and landscapes of Paris, Belgium,
the European forest and countryside, mountains and seashore. Rows
of town houses line up in tedious splendor, their windows reflecting
or capturing proper clouds. Magritte’s sea and sky are realistic, except
when intruded upon by interloping impossibilities.
In “The Empire of Light,” for example, the artist presents a house,
a garden wall, some trees and a street lamp. The lamp casts light and
shadows out over the lawn and it is reflected in a pond. All is dark
under the trees. An ordinary, realistic scene, depicted with amazing
subtlety in the gradations of tones of light on the underside of the
The element of the “surreal” enters when we look at the sky above
the scene. It is bright, noontime blue. The scene below is night, above
is high noon. The pond, of course, should be blue as the sky, and the
trees should be lit from all directions by refracted sunlight. Magritte
blends the underlit trees and their foliage into a silhouette against the
blue sky, a masterpiece of illusion. The observer knows that some¬
thing is “mysterious” or “wrong” about the painting, but its photo¬
graphic realism fools the eye.
Other Magritte paintings are more blatantly Surrealist. An eye
stares out of the center of a slice of ham. Three moons perch in the
limbs of a tree. An eagle hatches out of a jagged mountain peak.
Household objects and a lion litter the edge of a road. In works such
as these, the artist moves beyond the fasntastic and into the inexpli¬
Magritte admired mystery stories about secret agents, and was
fascinated with the works of Edgar Allan Poe. He created a visual world
in which mysterious objects, such as little round sleigh bells, French
horns, lions, and bowler hats, appear again and again on beaches, in
forests, or in city streets. Or, a familiar room and its objects are
petrified, or a sky is rendered as a stack of cubes.
This combination of realism and the mysterious is the essence of
Magritte. The same factor makes his work much more accessible to
average viewers. There is a special appeal for poets, who are always
looking for ways to turn the everyday into the mysterious.
I hasten to add that Barbara Holland is not a literary Surrealist.
There is no randomness, no impulse toward Dadaist fist-shaking. The
ambiguities of meaning, the shattering of form and syntax that run
rampant in some experimental and visual poems, have no place in
her writing. Like Magritte with his photographic style, Barbara writes
in plain English, often in a narrative that could easily be read as prose
to the unwitting listener with poem-phobia.
Her voice speaks in complete sentences, tightly packed clauses,
and unambiguous meaning. If they seem at times like run-ons, they
clarify themselves on repeat readings, like a puzzle solved.
The world of Barbara Holland, then, is the real one, that of a
solitary literary woman living in Greenwich Village in its last Bohe¬
mian years. The twist is simply that impossible things happen there.
Roses drink bottled blood, tree stumps sprout human ears, unaccom¬
panied crutches stride the avenues, and a knife appears in the poet’s
back as a permanent ornament. She writes with clarity and wit about
each brand of impossibility. There is also the passivity of the
spectator/voyeur in most of her poems: the poet seldom acts, but is
acted upon. She is an esthetic pin-cushion. Reality annoys her more
often than it delights her, and she is quick to tell you that.
How much Magritte does the reader have to know to appreciate
these poems? The answer is — surprisingly little. Browse through a
book of the artist’s work to get a feel for the visual world, and you are
ready for most of what Holland deals out. In fact, most of these poems
are not specifically about any particular painting. Magritte merely
provides the template that the poet superimposes over her New York
turf. She sees her urban setting as if through the canvasses of the
master, and tells us what she sees.
This raises the final critical question about whether this poetic
cycle is ekphrastic poetry, that is, poetry whose purpose is to
describe art or relate the narrative that a visual work of art contains
or implies. Only a few of the poems here, such as “Tryst Beneath A
Bird House,” can be said to explicate a specific painting. Rather, these
poems inhabit the world-view, sense of life, and physical laws of an
alternate universe. Her poetry is more aligned with weird fiction than
with the sodden confessional personal poem of the 1960s.
I interviewed Holland about the poems in Crises of Rejuvenation
when we were preparing the 1986 edition. Following are the notes we
made about some of the poems that do spring from actual Magritte
paintings, presented here for those who might take pleasure in
reading the poems against the paintings. Some other passing thoughts
about the inspiration or intention of certain poems also emerged from
the conversations, and are they repeated here so that the reader may
benefit from the context. If I veer between the formal and informal in
talking about this poems, it is because we were good friends during
all those years, so I can step down from the editor’s chair here and
there and call her simply “Barbara.”
PERSONAL VALUES was provoked by the painting “Les Valeurs
personnelles” (1952) which depicts a room full of oversize objects. A
comb and brush and a bar of soap overwhelm a normal sized bed,
while the room's wallpaper depicts a Surreal sky and clouds. Another
poem, THE LODGER, also uses this painting as a taking-off-point.
A STREET THROUGHOUT THE YEARS depicts a repeated dream
that never attains a conclusion, a door that is never reached.
VERNAL EQUINOX introduces the concept of petrified objects,
people and even emotions that Holland has adopted from Magritte.
Paintings by Magritte that come to mind are “The Song of the Violet”
and “Souvenir de Voyage III.”
In INTIMATIONS and, later, THE EVENING FISH, sky and ocean are
interchanged at dusk wherein fish fly among the television antennae
and chimney tops. You have to see the sunsets over Greenwich Village
through a succession of seasons to appreciate how true this is to the
neighborhood where we all lived.
The dinner date in AN ABOMINABLE BREAKFAST, the poet tells
me, is like one of Magritte’s petrified bourgeoisie.
When Holland empathized with a nephew in a cast for a broken
leg, she began fantasizing about a pair of unpeopled crutches, perhaps
the most bizarre automata ever. LOUDER THAN LIFE depicts their
The title poem, CRISES OF REJUVENATION, refers to several key
Magritte paintings. The poem centers, though, on a series of perverse
paintings in which Magritte painted objects and then put incorrect
names under them, such as a tumbler of water called “l’Orage (Storm)”
in “La Clef des Songes (The Key of Dreams).” There is also the famous
painting, “Cecf n’est pas une pipe (This is not a pipe).”
Holland wondered about the origin of the cubed sky shown in
various Magritte canvases, and here is her theory, made by a sorcerer
in MY OLD FRIEND, THE SORCERER.
WHO GOES FIRST is a literal reaction to the painting titled
THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS was provoked by one of
the most haunting paintings of the 20th Century, Magritte’s “Castle of
the Pyrenees,” which depicts a castle atop an egg-shaped rock that
floats serenely over a seascape. Epics could be written about that one
THE INEVITABLE KNIFE is a masterpiece of paranoia fit for one of
Magritte’s trailed secret agents. When Barbara read this, she twisted
about, looking for the knife in her back which she could neither see
Those seeking to explain poets’ visions as the result of drugs will
be only slightly satisfied to see that Holland can transform bleak Sixth
Avenue into a circus after having only three cups of my infamous
Lapsang Souchong tea, in HIGH ON THREE CUPS OF TEA The poem
contains one of the most wondrous streaks of alliteration in all of her
The eagle hatching out of the mountain in “The Domain of
Arnheim” — itself a mysterious reference to a story by Poe —
provoked several poems, including AS ONE POSSESSED and, later,
THE IRON URGE and AQUILA.
Sun, moon and stars occasionally get stuck in window panes,
mirrors or treetops in Magritte paintings. This happens in the poem,
THE BREAKER. Paintings with this imagery include “September 16th”
and “The Banquet.”
AUTUMN WIZARD is dedicated to Ray Bradbury, the undisputed
Lord of October. The “indigo, coral and turquoise” leaves might belong
in a Magritte forest.
MIDNIGHT ON THE ESPLANADE is a straightforward explication
of the painting “Le Mai du Pays.”
The poet says of CLOSE CALL FOR THE SECRET AGENT that it
represents her pursuit of Magritte’s personality. “I wanted to find out
what kind of man he was, and never did figure it out,” she recalled.
The poem evokes the many pictures of bowler-hatted men who stare
straight at you with mask-like, inscrutable faces. Magritte’s paintings,
“The Menaced Assassin” and “The Month of Harvest” come to mind.
(Holland left an entire book manuscript titled The Secret Agent in
her unpublished papers, and in those inter-related poems an unseen
Secret Agent is an unseen player.)
NOT NOW, WANDERER is contemporaneous with the Magritte
poems and certainly shares its mountainous landscapes with those
of the painter. But this poem has its origins in Wagner’s Ring Cycle,
the paganized operatic setting of the Nibelungenlied, in the figure of
Wotan with his single eye, staff and floppy hat. The Wanderer is the
name by which the Father of the Gods chooses to be known in the
mysterious episode where he tries to block Siegfried’s passage. The
“messenger ravens’’will be recognized by Wagnerians as the twin birds
that signal the imminent assassination of Siegfried. This poem is a
passionate song of hopeless, lost, ineluctable passion. It reduces
audiences to stunned, purged silence, so much so that it can be almost
unendurable to hear another poem for some long moments after¬
wards. To hear Barbara read this poem when she was at her peak was
one of the great thrills of my poetic life.
TAKE FLIGHT TO MONTREAL! is a personal favorite. Barbara
wrote this after a dinner at The Poet’s Press loft during which I
playfully hinted that I would install some multi-tentacled Lovecraftian
monster to protect the premises against burglars. My poem in reply
to this one appears side by side with her original in the anthology,
Magritte playfully has window panes retain an exterior image even
when shattered and leaning against a wall. Here, in THE ITINERANT
WINDOW, Holland has an entire window moving about and winding
up in the boughs of a tree. The images trapped in glass also figure in
A CUP OF COFFEE.
BEFORE THE BEGINNING is a seascape, very reminiscent of
Magritte’s “Le temps menagant (Threatening weather).”
Rocks from Magritte’s petrified world take on a practical use to
punish editors who have the temerity to reject poetry manuscripts
in A COVERING LETTER.
In ENTRANCE OF ORIGINS a face turns into rock, somewhat
reminiscent of Magritte’s petrified world, but also reminding one of
some of Dali’s images.
APPORTS evokes a French medieval fortress as an immutable
object whose ephemeral shadows move like gypsies from place to
place. An enigmatic poem.
The origin of NOT FUNGUS, NO, NEVER THAT! says the poet, “was
put in my head by the way fungus looks: noses, chins, ears.”
SCHUYLKILL WEATHER, by its title, betrays the poet’s Philadel¬
I IMAGINE YOUR GUITAR was inspired by a display of heat
The bowler-hatted men in black from Magritte paintings fit in well
with the 1960s and 1970s politics of Greenwich Village, where FBI
informants posed as radicals, brownstones exploded, and hippies
and police battled in public parks. In SO THERE, DESCARTES! the
Secret Agent vanishes into thin air — bit by bit. In LEAVINGS, pieces
of him linger. The Secret Agent — the man whose face you never quite
see, is also the “you” in SUSTAINED ENCHANTMENT. We suspect, too,
that the man always a few steps ahead in SUBWAY EXIT, and YOU
NEVER NOTICE, and THE BRAIN WALKS CLOSE BEHIND may be one
and the same.
Magritte used umbrellas in some of his work, such as the painting
of an opened umbrella with a glass of water on top. In SUSPENSE FOR
DAYS a church steeple threatens to open like a parasol.
Mirrors that reflect the wrong images are another familiar Magritte
device, in such canvasses as “Les liaisons dangereuses” and “La
Reproduction Interdite.” In STRIKE TWO, the poet has done with
Surreal mirrors and then goes into a frenzy over distorted echoes. A
tinge of the same marvelous sense of paranoia infects this poem as
in THE INEVITABLE KNIFE Later, in KEEPING THE WINDOW CLOSED,
the moon and some stars get caught in the parlor mirror. Not “billions
and billions” of them, as Carl Sagan would say, but just a few.
When the president of an eminent poetry society just happened
to win that group’s $700 prize for “best poem” with an ode “On the
Opening of a Walnut,” Barbara was provoked to write her nutty lyric.
In “The Therapeutist” and a series of related paintings Magritte
shows a man who has an oversized bird cage as a torso, which
provoked the marvelous poem, A TRYST BENEATH THE BIRDHOUSE.
THE BLIGHT is a character study of a very real character, a
small-time con artist who temporarily infected the New York poetry
scene in the early to mid-1970s. His hyperactive behavior and
grandiose schemes are parodied in this poem.
HOME CAN BE ANYWHERE was provoked by a bus ride through
part of Staten Island.
SOME DAY A SUDDEN CRAVING is a true story of a hospital
worker who had a novel gardening tip.
In ANCESTRAL VISION an old face suddenly takes on a boyish
look and the poet wonders which persona is the real one.
Dr. Freud gets his comeuppance in THIS CERTAIN QUAINTNESS.
You had to be around in the 1960s and 1970s to see what a grip Freud’s
ideas still had. Psychiatrists made a lot of money keeping neurotic,
well-heeled patients in a state of total emotional dependence. And it
was always about Mommy and Daddy and those repressed desires.
THE SUMMER’S FINAL SEASON concerns a dark cloud hanging
over a peaceful village. Everyone pretends it doesn’t exist. Although
the poet did not intend it, there is something about this poem that,
to me, represents the whole of modern Cold War anxiety. The cloud
hangs there, waiting to “liberate its cargo” which would “plummet like
a stone on target.” For a generation born under the cloud of a nuclear
threat, this poem is an unwitting representation of how life just “goes
The real-life paranoia of President Nixon is portrayed in THE
CAPRICORN TAPESTRY. Barbara recalled a newscast in which Secret
Service agents had scurried on Nixon's orders to disarm a bomb on
the White House lawn, which turned out to be an abandoned golf ball.
If Nixon was made edgy by protesters on the sidewalk, the poet
wonders, how would he feel about nosy astronauts staring down at
him from the moon?
THE LISTENING ROOM is based on the painting of the same title
— possibly one of Magritte’s more familiar ones. A large green apple
fills almost all the available space in a room. Barbara sent this to me
just after I had sent her my ferocious supernatural poem, “Fete.” “A
black wedding?” she replied, enclosing this poem and adding, “Well,
here’s a green divorce!”
THE SORCERER’S MOON is a montage of different images from
Magritte, which the reader will recognize from other poems, if not
from their constituent paintings.
COMPANIONS, with its bare toes bursting out of a pair of boots
is from Magritte’s “The Red Model.”
This second volume of Barbara A. Holland’s Selected Poems
includes all the poems in the two original publications of 1974 and
1975 as Crises of Rejuvenation, and 21 additional poems which the
poet and I selected for an expanded single-volume edition in 1986, It
was re-issued in 2005-2006 as a 30 th anniversary edition. The inter¬
views that were the basis of the foregoing notes are based on
interviews in Providence, Rhode Island in 1985.
Not all the poems added in 1986 were ekphrastic poems con¬
cerned with Magritte’s imagery. We selected others that were written
contemporaneously with Crises of Rejuvenation, products of the same
time and same world view.
For that 1986 printing I summed up how these poems had affected
me personally, and why I thought they should be read: “These poems
have taken nest in my own consciousness, as they will in yours. You
will think of them, of their strange and beautiful images.
“Even better, you will find that certain phrases become a part of
your own vocabulary. You may even find that your perceptions are
just slightly altered so that you, too, sit down and write about how
the real and unreal collide and invade one another’s territory all
“The answer to the book’s cryptic title lies therein, doesn’t it? We
grow old and die by seeing things only in the conventional way. We
are rejuvenated when we can see things through another sense of
dimension, when we can use our imagination so that ‘names and the
objects which they had previously owned divorce for other partners’.”
— Brett Rutherford
Pittsburgh, March 29, 2020
CRISES OF REJUVENATION
Bent to right angles, the living sky
hurries its continuity of clouds
across the room;
Around it, alongside of it,
dreams of the fever of stars.
If the mirror is honest,
somewhere in the neverland behind
the observer a starched gauntness
of window intimates
that outer other,
more living, more desperate,
more spontaneous and daring
than the wind course
of wallpaper recently bent and organized
to house disproportionate tidiness
in domesticated freedom
and raising its regimented altitudes
against the greater of the two unknowns
< 24 >
CRISES OF REJUVENATION
lam repatriated in a moment of panic.
These are the privileged
moments that transcend mediocrity.
I am seized
from behind by my homeland
in a moment of panic,
when places are exchanged
and the rhythms of life reversed,
when names and the objects
which they had previously owned,
divorce for other partners,
when wood rasps granular like stone,
and rocks river grain
throughout their lasting stolidity;
in a grasp
of gravity when rain hangs
suspended like tons of hair,
< 25 >
loosed by dried clouds
or when the third-story window
of a mansion shudders implacable blue
from untenanted rooms
and a subsequent low rumble
escapes down the garden
beneath the grass.
These are the privileged
moments, transfiguring size and enlarging
color to accommodate sky
and ocean. These are the moments
that transcend mediocrity
just about this time last summer, he
and clinched his argument.
< 26 >
You knocked me out
this morning; with a flash
fist you cracked my skull
wide open to the sunlight,
then edged yourself
from between its parted
by your laughter
at the wince I was.
I crawled down
into the reassurance
of the coffee pot
from which you poured my murk
through your reflection.
< 27 >
RAGS OF OMEN
A warm, firm grasp
of your hand on a night
when the winter
dances on the rim
of your ear.
A cousin grip assuring
your shoulder of gemmed
End of hair
against your cheek
as scarcely tangible
and almost as unendurably
intimate as breath.
Rags of ambiguous
from a stranger’s hedge.
< 28 >
AN ABOMINABLE BREAKFAST
My eyes plough my minestrone,
seeking an alternative
to being bruised against your iron face.
Your scowl hangs
like a soaked and dripping sheet,
filthy water which dents the table top
before it turns to scum.
You hoard your thunder
by the ton. No drop leaf was ever
intended to support such silences as yours
which squats where wood is weakest,
sniffing at our barrier
of boredom. Passionate boredom,
like a sweater which a dozen years
has colonized throughout with burrs,
stiffens until the first growth
of conversation comes up stubble;
at each glimpse recapturing the long
horse face of obstinate delusion,
and hisses like a useless faucet.
< 29 >
LOUDER THAN LIFE
Staking out stance
with their cushioned hoists,
curved segments of transportation,
by nailing their claim
for no one’s weight,
of crutches, now adopted siblings
to no discernible
leg, acquires and abandons
to no one’s aid
in any unusual hour past midnight
in deserted streets.
past the filling station
stabbing their raucous round
of corner, two simultaneous uprights
in double tilt of giant steps,
as if a man between them
were flung across a now, reached inward
from the future,
which is instantly obsolete;
were flung again,
but no one hangs between them.
The crutches stab their stride
then stab again.
< 30 >
Suppose a man,
despite the absence
of any human agency!
These crutches are out
on their own, this time by whim impelled
through any neighborhood of night.
a grip on handholds.
are synchronized, louder
< 31 >
A STREET THROUGHOUT THE YEARS
is always with me
Never has anyone been visible
drained by the moonlight of their breathing.
Row on row of brownstone shafts
with a glass that takes
outside and throws it back
rather than announcing inside.
Glints experiment with paneling,
The doors cringe in the depths of alcoves,
lurked like cowled figures
in single blocks, self hugged
within a narrowness,
pledged to be vigilant
with eyes alone.
The street tenses,
in response to waiting.
there is that door,
half transformed into a column
< 32 >
which cannot hide
a luminescence bright enough to be
a faint glow
this side of suggestion.
As I watch, it grows,
to bathe the steps, but suddenly
I find myself elsewhere,
the street gone.
The next time I am here
I am a half block off,
< 33 >
Not as the disc face
of the incessant sky, caught in the curve
of horns that harbor the miracle
of harp strings, would I deny you
the vast moor of my love.
Nor as the tremor,
still rumoring the long gong of countless
acquaintances, can I dip less
of you from air than sound
and strain you through
the skeletons of leaves,
for now the twilight whinnies
and the stars creak on their axes,
now the fish, feathered through
from spine within
to tufted scales without,
swims among chimneys,
a victim for ventilators.
It is a long swallow
in the throat of the past
that gags on the lie of distance
and your absence. A mirror swings
between that serpent’s eyes,
flinging some little of my face
before you, to warn you that a keyhole
may capture your timelessness
and guard it for my homeward passage.
< 34 >
NOT NICE AT ALL!
I am not safe here.
I am not
treat your elsewhere
to my least
that ought to be too youthful
nevertheless are always
to hobble home
as you want them —
< 35 >
I used your absence
up; no day of it was wasted.
When, at the first, it raised
its granite vastness
as a cliff that faced my daily door,
I wrote a sentence
on it which I never let you read.
Nor could you
ever; your return
I cannot quote it
now, but after it was written
there, the whole cliff
quivered through its width
in drift of curtain.
That was when
it first began to shale off flakes
the size of store-front window panes,
the day I first installed my window,
the day the rock wept slabs of rain.
< 37 >
MY OLD FRIEND, THE SORCERER
I could sit here almost
forever, watching the dormer window
of the tall house on the ridge
issue a flight of clouds.
Some bulge slowly
through the squeeze of frame, fretted
by the roughened wood. Some ooze and fray,
straggle and fall apart
in shreds. Some clot and obstruct
the window until activated by a shove.
Some sail forth
languidly like flotillas
of immaculate ironing boards.
Some puff in bounce
to freedom with sooted bottoms,
but the kick dies
after the window has done with them,
and all that is left
is the long climb upward
into the herd and across the meadows.
And how the fields bruise
with them under reiteration
of interrupted heat! I too,
wherever I am, in slow
pace of assurance,
for he has to be in there,
grinding out clouds — my old friend,
the sorcerer — the sly one!
< 39 >
WHO GOES FIRST*
Your clothes hide precious little
of your armor of ivory. Probably you
are unaware of the netting of veins
that runs through it. Right now, I note
the trembling of newly sprouted leaves,
parting a crevice all along your arm,
in twinkle from your shoulder
to your wrist.
A soft whip of forsythia has just uncoiled
and risen from your collar
to annoy your ear,
No, you are not a liar. You are numb,
so habit plated that the lick of truth
will never touch your cheek,
nor will the damp
weight of the scent of lilacs encumber you.
You stand too straight,
sit with the inclination
of your spine as focus for meditation,
walk shod in quandaries of chamois,
and occasionally reproach me for never
removing these linked gloves of nerves
which have driven my rings into ruts
of accustomed bruises. A grape fall of lilac
invades your eyes. I see it, but refuse
to sniff. 1 smell it, but turn my head away.
My face is stamped on the reverse side
of the coin of caution which I give you,
shoving its small chill under your plate
as a fit bribe for your skittish mercy.
< 41 >
THE BEST OF ALL POSSIBLE WORLDS
A stone, fitted to the grasp
from the beach and hurled high
over crests of breakers,
and out of context
and stuck there,
dipping and lifting
on the buoyancy of air, blistering
from hide of granite
along the line of sky to shape
of piel towers, keep
of Basque perversity
and stuck there,
a parasitic nucleus
of armed nobility, perched
on the brow of a mountainous boulder,
at perilous threat
to shipping as the monstrous weight
lowered to the slap
or shot up smartly,
hoisted to the race
and stuck there
on updraught of pride
on diabolic insolence,
keeping court coeval
— and stuck there.
< 43 >
There you go,
hung from whatever support
keeps you dangled
to scuff of feet
that drag to the weight of the shadow
they tow behind them.
Then why is your neck
worn out with your head?
And why do you gnaw
reluctantly on a knuckle
that you never really liked?
Suppose you had to haul
your image about as I do,
and that includes your shadow
as well as the droop
in the slouch that casts it!
I have strained against
the worst laggards there are
in the junkyards of imagery,
and I have never gone
on a diet of fingers. I need them
to repair their shadows.
< 44 >
THE INEVITABLE KNIFE
I must look incredibly foolish.
You will have to admit
that a handle midway between
the shoulder blades
I know it’s there. 1 feel it;
the humiliating wag of it in bend
of steel to weight of handle;
the glint of metal
yet unburied, triumphant
in the wink of stealth;
the chill of ice edge
encroaching on the sovereignty of spine,
and the nausea,
just as it always has been,
in the tempting availability
of a useful excrescence
for any type of push or pull,
and as it always will be.
I can never get used to it.
< 45 >
HIGH ON THREE CUPS OF TEA
Street lights drown
in wine. The ambered dark
breathes an unpeopled festivity,
as if the city had been recently
deserted by a circus
that left the lights on.
This has been
but the end of a day of it.
whose faces had never been anything
more than basically facial
with serious cases
of beautiful eyes.
I was embarrassed.
A warehouse appeared
as a Venetian palace. A limp
banana lily languished
on the lip of a garbage can
an occasional iconoclast,
stood breathless before
of a parking meter.
I go home
to delight in the cracks
in my ceiling while the light
outside my window
rinses layers of grime
< 46 >
AS ONE POSSESSED
Any time that you did not splurge
by staring at blank paper
seemed to be wasted, for the pressure
persisted, nagging between your ears,
or grabbing you by the spine
and shaking you. Sleep came and went,
but blotted none of it
And so the words were pinched,
twisted, stretched and worried;
forced through a hole in your forehead,
which widened with their girth,
and everything rocked,
limped, staggered and sagged;
flesh from spectral insufficiency
which made no sense in the flesh
or out of it. You could not forget it.
That was forbidden,
but if you insisted on scratching at it,
you broke your nails,
and then your fingers. If it died
to forget you, it stole
a birth from you to be remembered.
< 47 >
for Ray Bradbury
HE fed your adolescence
the youth of his poems,
lo you remember
of unusual leaves; that they were crimson,
indigo, coral and turquoise
when they streamed
a spiral from the hearth grate
out and once around him
on their long glide to the ceiling?
Do you remember that his house
was a gaunt spinster with a rhomboid eye
browed under angle of a gable; that the raw
dawns of the crows had galled
He was a poet then, as thin and angular
as his house, and of a desperate season,
when the sky screams and the clouds
become impulsive. Not for all his summers
has its bite diminished,
even when the green-up
hit him and his wallet swelled with May.
He has been poet still,
despite the blockage of a moveable screen.
The Autumn stuffs the yawning
of the fireplace and the flue packs solid.
The screen is a wall of gems,
< 48 >
but even so, he sometimes
removes it and the room is brawl
of burst October when the crush
crumbles and the whole belch of it charges
the dining room door. Then he burrows
through the heap of his poems for air
while his house leans on the wind.
< 49 >
MIDNIGHT ON THE ESPLANADE
You have propped your conservatism
on the rail of a bridge. Bright smudges
of lights awaken only a glimmer
in cuff-links; not the sharp burst
from unclouded metal in response
to the glare
from spike-crowned lamps, sided with glass,
but minor luminescences
from smears of gold.
It is no night to wink manic
with cufflinks, but one which molds
chimeric monsters above the huddled
houses in the street below;
a night that dances on cheekbones
with swarms of microscopic feet,
a night that wads traffic in cotton batting,
and no night at all for an off-duty
businessman, who carelessly raises prodigious
wings from the shoulders of a tuxedo,
to allow his faultless tailoring
to soak through, and his plumage
to mat to a near slime, packed tight
against the back of his coat.
But, nevertheless, there you are,
prodding at brittling financial considerations,
and drowning your face in fog, while first
one wing and then another, loosens
under moisture and shakes free a bit of cramp
from the discipline of muscles.
< 51 >
Feathers lift and ruffle
down currents of gloss. An impetuous flounce
stacks a side of sleekness
against the dullness of serge.
There is no alteration of your expression,
or shift of your hands. And your lion,
successfully trained in Yoga, lies
less impatiently on the coolness
of the flagging
behind you than either of your wings
on your cogitations, and awaits
his enlightenment and your decision
to continue with your long walk home.
< 52 >
In the grasp of a wave
you were gone;
by a wave flung back.
Where are you?
After the wave withdrew
the beach was wet with stars.
But now the stars
are dried and you
are out of reach.
Speak to me
from all the many voices
in this whispering sand.
Somewhere the sun must find you.
< 53 >
CLOSE CALL FOR THE SECRET AGENT
The tiny quintets of toes that had spattered
the parapet, as if after intermittent
catfalls during the preceding night,
who wondered why they were indelible,
what type of marking substance
had etched them there, and what
sort of night had happened anyhow.
If anyone had told them
of the correct gentleman in the impeccable
suit, who had walked up and down
the length of those neatly fitted
segments of granite, folded tightly in
upon himself with the severity
of a furled umbrella, and who had tapped
out his impatience with the tips
of his fingers
on the rock, as if the gray of it
had barely clouded the keyboards
of several petrified typewriters
< 54 >
they would have paid no attention
at all, but if they had heard the slightest
suggestion of fingerprints, left there
by the secret agent, they would
have had those blocks
rooted up, hoisted, crated and trucked
off somewhere for insatiable testing
and, like as not, would have lost a whole
police force in a manhunt for the secret agent,
whose only crime had been the temporary
dislocation of an aspect of cultural faith.
They were not told. The timely intervention
of a sparrow easily distracted them.
The infuriating spots soon vanished.
< 55 >
THE RETRACTABLE BOOBY-TRAP
myself from the asphalt,
a mutinous hip,
after brushing off
and straightening up
after stuffing my embarrassment
back in my purse,
I searched both curb
and gutter for the thing
that tripped me.
It was a dog,
of course, now
three blocks hence,
strayed again from
his human, tightening
across the sidewalk
at the height of shin.
Effective as a booby-trap
How many pedestrians
did you tumble today?
How many limping
< 56 >
NOT NOW, WANDERER
VENING by evening
your shadow lengthens,
but with this
Autumn, as with others past,
it is a lie.
Never does it lengthen
sufficiently to fall on me.
Never does the dark grasp
at the end of your reach
fasten upon me and lift me
to the crags where you stand guard
and listen to my waiting.
Still, the high howl of my hunger
for you swoops, a lost bird,
between your messenger ravens.
I walk at night, expecting their brush
of blackness across my cheek,
but no feather of them tells me
by contact that you are nearer.
Not now, Old One. Not at any
other now do I need you
less than in previous Autumns,
for the familiar and delectable tearing
in the ring of my pelvis
and the hot cloud
fattening under my ribs, merge
with the leaves’ urgency
and the moon’s tight-fisted tension.
With this suspense and the concentration
of desire, I make my instrument
of destruction and creation.
< 57 >
When Time shall bring my arms above
and around the granite
of your shoulders, and I am lost
in the folds of your cloak;
my waiting assuaged in the cavern
left vacant by your eye
beneath your hat brim,
my extension will shorten,
my aim will quirk, my concentration
will sputter and the old work
of will and incantation
will dry up,
I need you,
more than that,
the need for you. Love,
lust, or the inevitable conquest
penetration by cast
of lightning on the bare slopes
browning above the fever of foliage:
our predestined collision
and the coiled sleep
in the crater of your vacant eye
must be withheld as many years
have kept them
pocketed for the conservation
< 58 >
gathers grayness. Your face hardens
with the weather as thunder
rehearses its yearly promises
among the hills. Somewhere beyond
a number of Autumns, or even beyond
all Autumns ever,
you will become a receptacle
for my remnants, pieced,
at the last, among your bones.
Wait, Wanderer, till then.
< 59 >
TAKE FLIGHT TO MONTREAL!
Do you know what that tentacle,
now weaving itself
through the slats of your fire escape,
has done for the front of your building?
(It has not adorned it!)
that when the citrus slant
of early sunlight
illuminates it from underneath,
and catches the pallor
of its suckers wide-eyed,
cabs slew broadside
to the traffic and squad cars
settle single file
across the street?
that whatever pours it
like a viscid dripping
from one of your open casements
was installed in your fourth floor loft
to frighten burglars,
you could have encouraged
whatever it is
to hoist its excess yardage
< 60 >
even if you balked
at arranging its removal
or an adequate explanation.
You had better
plan on a long
vacation in Montreal.
< 61 >
THE ITINERANT WINDOW
High on the night
the slow drift
of your windows southward
The long reach
of brilliance sizzling upwards
from the grass
in oak boughs,
caught out startled
in the leaves
winds tossing lozenges
of glass about;
a strong gust
unloading a lead-crossed
< 62 >
and nudging it
across the dark,
< 63 >
Who crunches cellophane
inside my head
and wakes me:
Who sets fire to the silence
with a sentence
of no possible relevance,
which hangs there,
and which clings
in the curtains?
I cry out
to the listening
all around me.
They call me
< 64 >
CRISES OF REJUVENATION
BEFORE THE BEGINNING
A poem clots
like storm accumulating
above a headland.
Where space so recently
a huddle of inquisitive
of competitive shoulders,
to be the first
a glimpse of me.
to the beach before the rain
begins to break
against the sand.
< 67 >
A COVERING LETTER
I am sending you five rocks.
They are overstatements of weight;
too solid to stare
into immediate dust; too quick with pyrite
and quartz to be tedious, yet sufficiently
conglomerate to confuse you,
if you are normal;
too much given to erratic winking
to leave you in peace; infusible,
insoluble and entirely
untractable, but just vivid enough
to make a vague blur out of anything
you choose to set beside them.
If you reject them,
you will be ridding yourselves
of the five best items
for keeping other people’s poems
from blowing away,
of the five items best suited
for throwing through the windows
of the Ford Foundation,
and if you keep them,
you had better not forget
to make them available
for public inspection,
because, if left unused,
they rot, and in so doing,
they are radioactive.
< 68 >
ENTRANCE OF ORIGINS
Your face clears, and the rock behind
stands out. A long swathe of your cheek
has worn to granite. A crackling
of mica flakes beneath your eye,
and the bald
smoothness of a boulder has burnished
a subtle curve of cheek bone. Above the ledge
beneath your eye moss drips a green
stain, from a yellow arch, which leaks
through fissures at the corners,
and drains off, eating more cheek away
until the harsh grain and the scab of lichen
emphasize the gouge that writes parenthesis
to nose and mouth. Slowly your face
disintegrates and terminal moraine erupts,
complete, unaltered and frighteningly alive.
< 69 >
Shadows of a June day under my feet.
These I can understand;
There is no more grief in these
than dust. Shoes shuffle them.
Winds rip them from the sidewalk
and store them away in poems.
I glance at the ceiling now.
Can all these shadows, dancing on my paper,
have fallen like a plaster surrender?
Do they evacuate your poems
for mine when the wind is reading?:
silos of remembrance
trailing shadows of Carcassonne? 1
1 Carcassonne. A fortified medieval city in France, in the Pyrenees, in the
Department of Aude, Occitanie. The immense fortifications have 52 towers.
< 70 >
NOT FUNGUS, NO, NEVER THAT!
I am no longer bothered
when that rotten stump breaks out
in another human ear.
Already four have fitted
against the bark.
at fork of roots,
A cluster of six in miniature
sprouted only yesterday. I wonder
if the rain has any bearing
on their size. They are so
delicate, those small ones,
and apparently quite attentive!
I merely observe, go out there
and catch up with any
that might have planted themselves
in the dark by stealth.
I have finally come
to accept them, even more than that,
enjoy them. They are company
for me, you know.
They make me feel interesting.
< 71 >
With the air sagging
from its fastenings all around you,
and your head
sticking up there to prop it,
there is no chance
for your knees at all. Your hands sulk,
drooping from their roots
at wrists, like sodden maple leaves
that drip aphids and itches.
It is all yours to walk
the weather's weight with your feet.
Your clothes insult you. You could bite
the first slam of a restless door.
The atmosphere nags, committed
to a grudge it holds,
like a threat of blackmail,
or a pistol between the ribs.
< 72 >
I IMAGINE YOUR GUITAR
an instant oscillates
air. I imagine
strung to no rigid
frame, no bowl
but as an arbitrary
scale you pinch
against the stars,
once wince at a time.
The zenith flutters.
< 73 >
THE RAUCOUS HOUR
The whiskery tip of a russet tail
flicked out from under
the sofa bed.
Last night at eleven thirty
Beethoven’s tally-ho Emperor 2
cleared two chair backs,
a book-piled table
and the northernmost window-sill
straight through the lowered sash.
A searching broom
has yet to dislodge the fox.
The ceiling releases
another knob of plaster,
a glass and breaks it.
The floor sinks wetly
to my tread
after Handel’s Niagara . 3
Underneath or overhead,
and early Sunday mornings
to awaken God.
2 Emperor. Nickname for Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5.
3 Handel’s Niagara. Allusion to Handel’s Water Music.
< 74 >
THE EVENING FISH
HE FISH that a clean dusk lures
between the stripped twigs
of television thickets and chimneys
choked with crooked pipes
that stagger in coolie hats
the rotation of spheres
and the creaking
mobility of ventilator sculpture,
this once were out too early,
and let the sun flash them from brick
and rusted iron, strike coral rhythms
from their sides and shrill
an agony of silver from their fins,
this once, when preceding evenings
had allowed only one explorer
to rest, nose tangent to an upright
and tail a perpetual ripple to secure
a moment of stationary suspension,
this once, before the blue strengthened
and broke out in a lively rash
of scattered stars; well before the cat
returned with feathers in his whiskers,
the same that so recently
had silkened the overlap assumed
to be scales, blazing from the swarms
that streamed from cupolas
dropped over water tanks,
this once before fillets of feathers
seeded the city wind for trawlers.
< 75 >
SO THERE, DESCARTES!
I have had all the time
in the universe to examine that table,
and still I am not
convinced of his departure.
But he has disappeared. He took his feet
away when he removed
his head, shirt, tie and coat;
everything he was
above the table.
he left his feet
in front of the door
of his top floor room.
I shall waste
no time in climbing
all those stairs
He should be behind
that unreplenished cup. An obstinate
fold of his overcoat
laps down darkly
at the side of his chair.
I would never allow
myself to interfere with the reveries
of a Secret Agent,
who could be
the muse, the saboteur subversive
and obvious as always.
< 76 >
It had to be he.
He was always like that;
always going away;
always his long
his giveaway gait,
while keeping his face
where he was going,
keeping his identity
just as he was at this moment;
ten steps upward
and ahead of me,
keeping his face in sun
and street for recognition.
Was I to crush against
the wall and pass him?
to call out his name
as if to spin him backward?
or watch his back
if it were he?
< 77 >
SUSPENSE FOR DAYS
or is it not
going to open up
if it does?
I have asked
when the steeple
slightly at the base,
its sheath of brick,
and lets it
hang in folds as if
against the sky
as basin of a raised
< 78 >
just about to,
< 79 >
I have just replaced
the mirror with an echo,
which fills the pallor of its absence
with a perfect fit.
from sight to sound required
no radical adjustment.
Soon I no longer
looked there to see if I was being watched,
and went about my business,
throwing the wall a word
instead of the usual nervous glance
and got the word back,
the image which the old glass
smudged and blurred as if from constant
indecision as to how I should have
there is greater likelihood of an honest
duplication, but when the time comes
for my ear to be
continually alert to any
silence from the wall,
not for gratuitous comment,
but for the possibility that I am being
overheard, I shall remove the echo,
as I did the mirror, and leave
the wall a blank for shadows,
at the risk of being grabbed.
< 80 >
THE SOUND OF THE TINKLING
They are here again today.
Their fingertips are alive
with buttercup bells.
Patterns cut out of sunlight play over
the flowers that dance
in the winking of their hands.
Hear them, Jerusalem!
Already the air is rain waiting,
pausing upon its patience until the end
of the celebration through which
peering above the sills
of their eyes, are asking
if I am harmful.
Is it not foolish of them
when their chants cling to the corners
of my darkness after their dance is done?
My rooms are still and weighted,
thick with the heather
on the breath of the gods,
and all night long the invitation
of the fire in the bells.
These are my brothers
who counsel me in the singing
of unknown birds.
< 81 >
You were always
in there. Way back
of protective selves,
sunken inside your own
dark oracle, on which your volatile
when any particle,
spun off from my unraveling
merged with the frost
that streaked a moon life through
your somber and forgiving
like the cirrus bridging
the conspiratorial circuits
that pervade your hair;
among arcana. You were
beautiful in there.
I fought you much
too often for my health.
My nerves screamed
< 82 >
until I am caught back
in my ageless home, somewhere
between the dawn
in your Satori.4
IN THE CAUSE OF JUSTICE
Nothing popped up
out of that walnut
when he split it
when he crushed the shell.
Nothing at all
was not even empty.
4 Satori. Japanese Buddhist term for awakening or understanding.
THE IRON URGE
It is a night of steel.
The stars sting and refuse to desist.
A smirk of a moon has been
newly sharpened. You can hear it
ring when a surreptitious breeze
scratches its back against
the crescent’s curve.
It is the kind of a night
that grasps both of your shoulders
and wrenches them; a night
when your body shrinks inside its coat
and loses contact with its lining;
when the sky is pallid
with the pearled frost of arrested breath.
The moon stirs, shrieks
distantly beyond the crags, but the high
profile of the head and beak
of the eagle, emerging
from the pinnacle, is silent.
The mountain is slow in the process
of hatching. It is cutting
a predator instead of a tooth, and the three
eggs, bleakly gleaming from their nest
on the balustrade, freeze
inward from the crackling surfaces
of shells, through pyrite yolks,
to agate verbs, unwinged and aging.
< 85 >
A CUP OF COFFEE
When you lift the sash
of your window, up goes
wherever you are behind the upper one,
and it remains there, writhing
with apple boughs, galloping
with a headlong meadow nowhere,
while being its usual self in motion.
But outside and underneath, my present
situation spies on you.
Fire escapes scuttle
under a roofing of heavily drifted
snow, climb into tree tops,
or harass the base of a village spire,
and you sip your coffee, not yet
willing to recognize the texture
of the wind that cools it,
staring at what you expect to see,
which actually rattles
above your head, trapped between two
plates of glass like the twin
fake lenses, composed of the business
of ants, that were framed
into spectacles for Salvador Dali.
Then, when you slam your window shut,
the meadow and orchard
telescope into your recent
illusion, driving both it and mine
to their customary distances,
and once again the fire escapes
threaten my neighbors’ windows.
< 86 >
He never sits still.
Undisclosed business sends him
on mysterious errands out
of the room and back, then out again,
but if he is unable to climb
over human legs or ease
his energy between the chairs,
he will thrust his crooked smile
across your shoulder
and rattle it against your ear.
He extracts individuals from a crowd,
drags them into corners and
that the moon is rising
that the lawn needs mowing
and that he knows the cube root of 22,056
(and you know what that means!)
He proposes to announce it at the next
meeting of the Board of Estimate
if his victim refuses to give him
the window at the second story front
the fireplace in the parlor
the column at the northeast corner of
the Wedgewood spittoon
and the smaller of two stuffed walruses
as embellishments for the cardboard palace
he intends to build, and through which
he has vowed to ride a bicycle
in pilgrimage past all his mirrors, leaving
behind him a votive offering
to every image of his suit and tie.
< 87 >
If indeed the Board of Estimate has not
been coerced to snore for a week
through solutions of quadratic equations,
or the swimming pool
with the Picasso mosaic
at the bottom has not been filled to the top
in excess of the truck-full which has clogged
< 88 >
SOME DAY A SUDDEN CRAVING
Old blood goes bad.
Only freshly siphoned blood
leaks new life into veins,
and so, at the weekend
he comes home
with bottled refuse blood
to feed the roses:
white, with no blush
rising. Innocence of Borgia,
the Pontiff’s kin;
thorns tucked away
in thicket leaves. Beguiling
kitten roses. Claws
straining in velvet lairs.
goes bad in storage,
but sated with mild
hallucinogens, his roses
thirst for something real.
They smile at him.
< 89 >
A TRYST BENEATH A BIRD HOUSE
You have gone
up into your head, and have vanished
can be going on up there? The lights
have been awakened
all at once.
which you must have climbed,
no longer props your chin. Someone
must have drawn it up. Are the birds
healthy? Are they eating well?
I just saw two indigo buntings
hurtle out of both
your eyes in unison,
like simultaneous bullets.
It must be fun
to do that, especially when your finger
flips the right switch unconsciously,
and off they go;
or when a gull sails out of your mouth.
It seems so easy.
Maybe everything is easier up there.
I never got that far.
I stayed behind,
down here hoping, at the low end
of your neck, to meet you
at your collarbone.
< 91 >
HOME CAN BE ANYWHERE
They come in clots; the abused buildings
with boarded windows, the empty shops
and bars that barely function.
Between them, squashed houses
sink in lots, frantic
with the dance of Shiva,
that suffers from a sick burlesque
of scrub pines, or with deciduous runts,
bouquets of leaves fuss
in their discontent
against indifferent walls.
All these along the edge
of a fed-up ocean,
dabbing at the shore by habit,
whose beaches, three parts soil
to one part sand,
breathe an unlikely green
against their raw sienna.
A fossil, still alive
in squalor? The crisp, blue buses
rocket through its veins,
carrying no advertising,
even for miracles,
but the proud plaques, in every park, weep
the gilt loose from the grooves
of letters, that spell the count
of those who died
in two World Wars, Korea and Vietnam
for Staten Island, but never
note Staten Island’s death.
Be sure of that!
< 92 >
They burnt the certificate
that made that real,
and lie about it brazenly
in air-conditioned buses. Home
can be anywhere at all, they say,
even on Staten Island, and they mean it.
< 93 >
THE BRAIN WALKS CLOSE BEHIND
Your face precedes you. By some
three inches the business section
follows it, keeps it positioned
for recovery should panic speed it
into partnership and catch it unprepared,
as when a word of greeting snags
in the stateliness of its passage
and arcs the crevice between
both halves in front of your ears.
So often I have seen the ritual
your nose and cheekbones
leading their high commands; a triumph
of bowsprit, an elevation of reliquary,
presentation of armorial claims,
while eyeless and with folded hands
an attendant animates or wears it,
until a stare or a word too strong
to be trapped between the lid and the box
springs abrupt collision
and catches your largo summarily,
with or without intention,
and you are all of a heap
in yourself at once. It happens often,
but drops no mileage from the march,
invalidates no prestige.
< 94 >
Now your recurrent
father surfaces; from crypt
of dream, from all humanity's
first oracle holds court,
transfiguring the face
behind your beard. And who
are you? Priest, Hierophant?
Scholar of Akashic scripts?
Our common ancestor who counsels
elves? Confessor to all
innocents who seek the Grail?
Your youth denies it.
Your casual eyes conflict
in seeming with an intensity
that holds them captive
to a cosmic wisdom.
Are you gone up
in smoke, leaving this August
and learned personage custodian
of your body, or are you
host to a more aggressive
spirit, shuffling both
immortalities inside your skin
to justify one ego, or are you
saint in fact, fiction
painting your identity on subtle
truth? And what is that?
< 95 >
THIS CERTAIN QUAINTNESS
OOD GRAY Grand-Daddy, stuffed
into the clutter of a room too small
for emotional surprises,
through psychic bric-a-brac and bits
of this and that left over
from a padded century;
a peacock sadly used
by years; an aquatint of the Prater;5 fussy
doilies everywhere; a mixed bouquet of dried
leaves and dead grass; a sculptured
marble clock, wriggling with ormolu; the smell
of dust-thick portieres, all spilling
from an era spawned by such minutiae,
while somewhere underneath the papers
on the desk an old id waters
at the eyes; while above the circling time
an Oedipal triangle holds hands
in gilt clinging to sensuous lead;
while in the basket by the hearth
libido sneezes; while in the wideness
of outside the oily spread and sprawl
of a squirming light-show oozes from being
into nothing and back again, spelling
the name of Sartre
on cockroach carapace of Now.
Would it were Jean-Paul Jones instead!
But nothing ever seems quite simple,
5 Prater. Amusement park in Vienna.
This is our heritage, which never
was completely serviceable, being a hamper
full of hand-me-downs, knitted conundrums,
whose soiled and simple answers glut
the button box, mementos of the
War and memoranda on the thrust of birth.
What shall we do with all dear Dr. Freud’s
accumulation of pressed infancies? Now that
we have become so long accustomed to them,
how can we bear to trade off
for uncertainties, this certain quaintness?
< 97 >
THE SUMMER’S FINAL SEASON
WAS vulnerable; that deep green dent
in the range of mountains. Spring and Autumn
roused watersheds that made
an unbroken mud-hole
of the glowing fields. Winter brought
avalanching snow, and ice in crevices,
that slid off cliff-sides, sending them to plough
the steeps that once had held them, or sprang
the gang-war boulders, sending them
down in leaping triumph, end over end,
to the certain demolition of anything that blocked
their way, Summer sank down among the peaks,
or burned high in unmoving air above the village,
which somehow had crystallized there,
even under these
conditions, and had remained intact for
with a repair here, a patch there; bright
with whitewash and weeping thatch,
hard edged in a loose
geometry of clusters. The Cross on the church spire
agonized even the far-off observer’s eye.
Sheep mourned and roosters cheered. Laundry
danced on Mondays behind the kitchens.
hereditary rites in the rutted roads, but still,
now, in the cauldron of Leo, a black smudge of no
disturbing size, hung as if appreciably distant
above the village; hung motionless, gained density,
grew blacker, larger, as if in slow and regular
descent. All was untainted around it.
Heat dazzled in the dooryards. Barns and haycocks
quivered in the haze, and the days drowned
in their night-falls. The moon took over,
< 98 >
the blot that never scattered, never shredded
or shifted from its post above the huge house
of civic affairs, yet thickened
with each hour’s weighting.
It was a dream, of course, a night’s glimpse
bitten from a long succession of the same
in a history of suspense. Routine had long ago
numbed everyone. One day the cloud would liberate
its cargo, would tire of its darkness
and release it
on unwavering sunlight, or else would plummet
like a stone on target, bringing both contents
and container, if they were separate,
through the rooftops in this thimbleful of motions.
But after so many abortive catastrophes
once and had been forgotten, what difference if
a deviant threat imperiled this tedious splendor!
< 99 >
KEEPING THE WINDOW CLOSED
The last time
I opened the window
the moon got in,
between the sill and sash
and plunged into the mirror.
It stuck there.
Now I cannot get it
out from between
the mercury and the glass.
Look in the mirror
any time of day or night,
and there the moon is,
guarding the absence
of your image
and gloating serenely,
I resent it;
the stars too,
that were sucked behind
the speed of moon
into the parlor,
where they roosted
on anything and crackled,
flared, went out,
then flared again,
That ... bothers me.
< 100 >
It can hardly be easy to summon
shadows after sunrise,
to pack them
in concentrate about
molded to your appearance,
yet that is what you drag
out of bed every morning,
When you plunge your clouded
consciousness into the bath, the water
undoubtedly forces unattached
masses of darkness
upward and about your head.
for now you have shaken
the splendor of night from about
your ears, after entering,
a tall drift of coolness,
into the field of fluorescent inspection,
still reminiscent of a slender
rise of winter smoke.
How much of you squanders
in keeping you a fake
< 101 >
THE CAPRICORN TAPESTRY
Out there in the darkness
bushes wink up at him.6
For us, they are enlivened
by fireflies, but to him they are cover
for marauders. The telephone
sits guileless, on the table,
Let its silence
be tapped, for silence listens
to unspoken guilt.
Call out the goon squad!
The one-man vigil
across the street, crashes
through drawn blinds and the message
on his swaying placard,
in the ice-blue of unwavering light,
reads its repeated accusation
from every mirror.
a sinister white sphere,
now resting by the herbaceous border,
has been lit with leprous
malignancy by the moon,
and is bound to explode.
Even the surface
of the moon is scouted by astronauts,
looking down here,
Order them back! Quickly!
6 Him. The subject of the poem is President Richard Nixon.
< 102 >
Throw them a banquet,
anything, to keep them
from getting up there
to spy on the chimney
what danger may seep
down the flue?
< 103 >
The sky herds its clouds, at least
on two sides of this floor and ceiling.
A modest wall secures their hopefully
stable relationship. The bed dozes,
but not the comb,
stood nearly on its head,
on one corner gleefully and which,
though scaled to the universe
of an almost floor-to-ceiling goblet,
dents the mattress only slightly.
A match from that same dimension lies
regrettably slack on the carpet, its wood
relaxed almost to the pliancy of twine.
The wardrobe, all of glass,
except for its frame, has been scrubbed
to the cleanliness of nothing at all,
and proves itself to be an admirable
container of nothing. It is a good room,
a small and well swept corner
of experience, which just this week
is entertaining some random items
from a somewhat mismatched awareness,
but does it matter,
when you come down to it?
The clouds are purposeful
in their drive
and the carpet is spotless.
I would never leave this room at all,
except for the rent, and that
is reckoned only by the type who darkens
the exquisite blue in that glass with wine.
< 104 >
It is difficult for me to speak
the audacity of your images
into my descriptions of you,
as it must have been also for you
to loosen and tumble the side of a mountain,
before you eased yourself
out of the peak that hatched you,
while blinking at the bleached sky
and the great fins of snow behind you
as the moon bounced its replicas against
your pride and retrieved them
for bent reminders.
There was then, as now,
the same experimentation
with the muscles of back and shoulder,
the same tentative archings
of unmanageable wings, which rose again,
even though completely exhausted;
the same crane of your head
to the zenith and the same attempts to whet
both your beak and eyes against the moon,
as if in anticipation
of that extended gaze that leaps
for the sun and grasps it
as now. But then, the process
was longer and far more cautious. For now,
as in two hand grasp you set the lectern
between your purpose and your audience,
the high heft of your wings
is definite, their grandeur
as chilling as the night
that willed you from its granite,
< 105 >
and your lashes take fire
from the cargo stolen from the sun
behind them. The flint ridges rise
in blades from your shoulders,
and the drone
of recycled formulae from several
years’ storage in this one room,
is broken as the eagle crashes
against the ceiling. There
the spell is terminated. Night hardens
into deafness, drowning.
< 106 >
CRISES OF REJUVENATION
These boots, familiar,
are wearied with the weight of walking.
Bare toes peep out through leather
as the boots transform to feet
The feet crack with drying
and the boots are aching.
Standing before the fireplace
these boots, these feet become
as one and wait there patiently
to be thrown out together.
The owner will have to do
without either boots or feet;
the feet before they crack and stiffen
and the boots have flattened arches.
< 109 >
THE SORCERER’S MOON
On a patch of sod
at the forking of two roads
there grows a tree;
its leaves compact and black,
in contrast with the woods behind it,
which cradles the infant moon.
the same moon that vibrates
from the mirror in your absence;
the same moon that soars
beyond the mountain peak
that disgorges a granite eagle;
the same moon drenching
a meadow in which a giant wine glass
swirls the fragments of cloudlets
in its gullet; the same which our hands
would touch in search for keenness
burning, as if with the intensity
of cold, the anger of outrageous summer.
< 110 >
According to the instructions I had
to jump, I did
from the ledge at the top of a mountain
into nothing and plunged
a short shock downwards,
then steadied upon the air.
The mountain backed away
from me and merged behind me
with all its brothers
and I was where I was
from a wide wing dangling,
thinking of the absurdity
of my moccasins
when hanging from skies
that pulled in tall heaps of blue
above me, facing a wall of hills
that bucked and heaved at times
on their line of march along the valley
or jostled with one another
while down some thousand
feet below were dairy farms
resorts, spires, silos, an eyecup lake,
or a country road, unmindful
of a speck that eddied where I was,
naked in my fear of Up and Down
and of Out to Every Side
in all their vastness.
ADVANCE UPON CANAAN
E WERE a long time coming:
ours was no Exodus,
but a continued coming:
not as the dunes creep,
soon to be anchored
scrambling across them,
not as the waves which are always
coming, but never arrive.
As burrs fasten to pelts,
as pods on one wing circling,
and nearly invisible, slowed and halted
by fitfulness of wind,
we came upon Canaan
and took root in the midst
of the brush, grew up through thicket
and resistance of indigenous tribes
until we were grown enough
to look over the dunes
toward our Country and presentiment
of our City, at one time
Babylon, at another Jerusalem.
In both home and in the wilderness
we shall sing the song
of our lady of revelations
in a strange land.
Above our heads in the sky
the wheel turns, still turns
and is stilled: all wings and eyes
seeing and seen, moving and motionless
completion of ourselves
at our exit as at our beginning,
packed thick with good and guilt
< 112 >
At one with our fathers,
judges, kings, prophets,
back before realization in constant rotation
over the top of the hill,
from which we shall see the land
we have yet to conquer,
though we may not attain it
in our ration of life.
The dunes come
but they are anchored by grass.
The sea is forever coming,
but never arrives.
Ours was a continued coming
over the ages to Canaan
beneath the chariot wheels
which have yet to come.
< 113 >
HOSE LEGS you left here
still stick straight out
across the doorway. Some day
they are going to trip me,
and that spread of hand
pressed against a panel,
probably to brace a leaning shoulder
and somehow in brightness —
(that kitchen light
has always dazzled me)
but not in shoulder. Oh no,
No arm there. Just an aggressive
jutting from between the coats.
Then that chevron fringe of beard
without a face to hang it
dangles for a moment in the mirror;
one hand wrings a clutch of fingers.
There is always a merry crackling
in the corner when that happens,
always beside the refrigerator.
And no one left to snoop for beer?
An eye rolled to the side
comes on, goes off. A bent back
at my desk, a strain of shirt
across the shoulders: highlights
which the desk lamp caught and lost.
And how about that foot and trouser
to the knee, supported
by a sturdy chair?
There ought to be a knee bent
with an arm across it.
< 114 >
ends off abruptly, like sentences
that people start
and suddenly abandon.
They should come back some day
to haunt their speakers
like the spare parts left around
to litter up my rooms
since you decentralized.
My God, man,
will you never pull yourself
together? what sort of stripped down
suggestion of the rest of you
is badgering someone else?
< 115 >
THE LISTENING ROOM
Green chill awaits me.
A hard unripening roundness
daily expands, encroaching
on my absences. Only a thread
of floor remains to me
for sidling to that pinched corner
where I keep my soul.
Tonight I shall return
to fetch it. I shall inch the door
open upon the increasing
pressure, the insidious glow,
and fling my keys inside
beneath that patch of ceiling,
breathed green, to which the floor
replies in kind.
Let them talk green
at the thickest of that tart fragrance
that exudes from a seedless core,
while I rejoice
as the spring lock rejects me.
Ours fastens on mine no longer
< 117 >
WHERE WILL IT ALL BEGINS
fritters its life
on another morning.
ooze at its least
through inky fingers.
flap both hands awake and let
the spatter fly,
dump it all
of a lump in the ocean
and see what happens.
< 118 >
THE WATCHER AWAKENED
The sweep of an eyebrow measures
the breadth of whiteness, still
unbroken by writing.
I did not
draw it there; it loiters
above the area,
then drifts away
If the wind
brought it, bobbing on the viscid
current of time,
anticipated my delusions.
The eye beneath it
blossoms on the paper and re-routes
< 119 >
CAT S CRADLE
It is probably all tinsel
and radiator paint:
this prodding with eyes;
this tickling with the edge of a smile;
the appearance of nearly
paranormal knowledge in the intensity
of your gaze. A rehearsal, perhaps,
or something you wear to parties,
I tell myself,
after so many feints
at offers in an atmosphere
hypnotic with intimacy;
glances slipped to me like bribes,
which you know
will never be taken;
smiles that might well be stolen
if I believed them,
and that limp,
leftover hand on the couch
which is waiting for something.
Nothing that I would do,
and nothing you want to happen.
< 120 >
I seem to have you limp
in my hands.
you are hard to hold.
An arm leaks stealthily
down through my fingers.
A leg, flung over my thumb,
kicks convulsively, almost
pulling the rest of you after it,
out and over,
and then my forefinger;
goes through your eye.
Your nose sinks inwards;
I wish you would stiffen up
for once, bone yourself
back to some semblance
of a human body,
and lend me an arm
only at the elbow.
I go on wishing.
MY COUSIN IN VERTICAL ORBIT
She was so neat about it.
She slid head downward into the chimney
and skimmed the floor from the fireplace
to the window. Non-stop and out.
Then up over eaves
and back down
in swan-dive through the parlor.
The last time the rug went with her.
It will home, grime thickened
at her next sweep through,
and I, apparently,
will be cursed with a night
of numbering beers against
the underbellies of her revolutions,
or of strolling among the fireflies
at the garden’s end,
for the best view of her backward
curve of spine, as she arches
the ridgepole cleanly
between two lightning rods,
and drives the bats
as crazy as human beings.
She was neat
about it. Even with her measurements,
she negotiated the bore of the flue,
emerging as plump
as ever, never having dislodged
a gobbet of soot, spotted
her dress, or unhooked her coiffure,
but three were many times
more than enough
< 122 >
YOU NEVER NOTICE
At the street crossing
I took you by the crook of your arm.
With the faintest sound
of ripping, it came off, and I
was left holding it.
You never noticed,
but continued to gash the air
with your face as you shoved it ahead
of you to the opposite sidewalk.
ran no longer
beside us; it has started up
an idea or two
in an alley and was off
Small swarms of letters
clustered in wriggling blots
against the sky. Your eyes worried
at their spasms of rearrangement,
squinted apparent meanings
from several spellings.
you leave me with the stem
of a conversation
clamped in my teeth, a rhythm
in the telephone,
< 123 >
My bones are bare now;
gnawed down by moonlight
and picked clean.
They are flashes,
a scarce width more
When you sort them,
they know your fingers;
the silver bowl,
the icy water,
their convulsed appearance
on its surface,
and in your hunger.
< 124 >
ENOUGH OF THIS
Shut up, old wound.
If your mouth must stay open,
let it laugh;
dry cackles locked together
like knitted burrs,
lodged in the scruff of memory,
and let the words
that fester in it terminate
catches them up
in your thread of a throat
Clamp your gaping
truth on quiet.
< 125 >
If a thick, green discharge
issues from underneath his fingernails
and stains the carpet,
and if the teeth in his smile
gleam solidly with stainless steel,
a bad evening is probably
ahead of you,
if not a frightful one.
If she brings in a dazzle
of chandelier lusters and
a stiletto laugh;
if her heels strike sparks
from the parquetry and her hair
retracts visibly into her scalp,
meditate, if you can,
upon an inexpensive lawyer,
and fire insurance,
or if the two of them
arrive together as a team and vanish
upon the moment of appearance,
scrutinize the fireplace,
then if any sort of ankles and shoes
whatever hang into it
from the chimney,
saturate the whole house
with the stench of cabbage (even
if simulated) and take your leave.
Close the door smartly.
Hang some bacon from the knob,
and run like hell.
< 126 >
IT MUST BE A JOKE
Your face has slimmed
and twisted, one eye
exploded into the center
of a spider’s wheel;
Your nose has been smudged
from sight, your mouth
slipped sideways and drawn crooked.
How have you become
so distorted when my face
is missing from behind
when you clutch at yourself
with both arms across
from me at the table;
when there is no mirror?
< 127 >
across my desk.
They rustle. Gouged
drifting into piles.
wilted and crumpled; some few torn.
They are mounting. I can hardly
count them. They continue coming.
Where shall I put
tomorrow’s payload since today’s
still must be organized,
how handle them? Bind them in packs
of twenty and press them down
to fit in tidy packets?
Leaves are drifting into herds
and from the boughs
of abandoned trees in silence
silver coins are falling.
< 128 >
DOWN MEADOW SLOPE
Look down the moon-sweep
to a march of spruce
and see your own form
how fireflies come and go
as if from between your ribs
how grasses bristle
through your shins
how you stick on the twigs
of a crouching bush
as if you were a twist of fog.
but what is lacking
there tonight that seems
to make you real?
< 129 >
END OF AN ERA
Victory fallen from the Arch in Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn
You would never be satisfied
deploring peace talks
you would press your demands
Anyone with as many sharp spikes
and excrescences to embellish
a helmet as you have
could only cry for combat.
Look how you have incited
your horses to rear and plunge
as you lash them to leaping
from the top of the arch.
You have long been pleased
to deafen daily with those trumpets
in your ears. Life without
a continuing clamor
would be unproductive for you.
You will have to be Queen Tumult to exist,
to fulfill your imagined destiny.
But as of this date
you have gone too far. A step back
(always a misdemeanor in your code)
to an extra thrust
of your highly unnecessary sword
has unstepped you
and you have been poured
head down in a tumble of scrap metal
cast as your garments
from the rear of your chariot,
< 130 >
secured still by some obstinate
remnant of uncorroded bronze
to your heels, with your foolish sword
menacing pedestrians below you
in Grand Army Plaza.
So much for you,
It is all as it should be;
he shall soon be entering
from the North
as I have often seen him,
his right arm lifted high
above his head
flourishing a five-branched
its small fires flattened
by his speed and bright
with the wine-sharp pallor
of a city evening
against the peach glow
of the arching lamps
as if with the pressure
of news to spring
upon the ear and eye
friends and onlookers swept aside
slight curling at the edges
of a skimmed milk moon
and all the sky
widened to five more senses
< 132 >
A smart bite of gravel
which you dropped in my boot
and which gnawed at the stance
of my determination or a muscle
by a bruise;
bullet holes pocked
in the lid of my grand piano
after your last invasion
of my privacy of mind.
These I charge
with damage to my self esteem
with your fuse and matches.
< 133 >
In bygone years the sunlight
bit the buildings just this way
in this season by late afternoon.
Now every one of them has come
to life with all its faces,
voices, emotions and events
so clearly that they all
but injure me.
glow almost as with some
certain light within them.
In country towns a new paint
in pastels takes on an unsuspected vigor
as if to say,
Here I am.
So many budding Autumns
heaped up upon one another
in piles like flaming leaves
recall as many other times
and places as music
and as many dead beginnings.
< 134 >
ABOUT THE POET
Barbara Adams Holland was born on July 12, 1925 in Portland,
Maine. Her childhood was spent in Doylestown, PA and then in
Her father was Leicester Bodine Holland (1882-1952), an architect
who moved in mid-career to art history and archaeology. For a
number of years he commuted weekly from Philadelphia to Washing¬
ton, where he was Chief of the Division of Fine Arts at the Library of
Congress. Later he taught at Bryn Mawr College, and also worked
with the Corinth excavations of the American School in Athens.
The poet’s mother was Louise Adams Holland (1883-1990), an
archaeologist and academic specializing in the Latin language (her
last work was a study of the Roman poet Lucretius). Her other
passions were gardening, swimming, and exploring the mountains of
the Adirondacks and Tuscany.
An aunt, Leonie Adams, was an esteemed poet, and a one-time
Poet Laureate of the United States.
Barbara’s sister, Marian (b. 1927), married an architect and lived
in Philadelphia. Her brother, Lawrence Rozier Holland, became a
Her sister Marian McAllister writes about Barbara’s childhood:
Barbara was sickly for the first year or two and had little
contact with other children.
She taught herself to read, at first from labels on food
packages and ads in trolley cars. By the time she was five she
was teaching me, two years younger, to read as well.
Living within walking distance of the University (of
Pennsylvania) Museum, where her father often took her,
Barbara developed an interest in other languages, first in
hieroglyphics, then in Chinese.
All three of us went to an old-fashioned “dame school” of
some twenty-four children from the University of Pennsylva¬
nia community. The single room held “classes” ranging from
kindergarten through sixth grade.
Barbara then attended private schools, graduating from
the Baldwin School in 1943.
< 135 >
Barbara Holland received a B.A, from University of Pennsylvania
in 1948, and an M.A. from the same institution in 1951.
Although she had completed all the course work for a Ph.D., she
left graduate school without completing her thesis.
She worked in Worcester, MA on a new edition of the Merriam-
Webster Dictionary, taught at a college in West Virginia, researched
genealogies, and then worked in New York City for a Wall Street
Finally, the lure of Bohemia — Greenwich Village — and the life
of a poet, became irresistible. With the slender income from a small
cache of stocks and bonds, she quit working around 1962 and rented
the apartment at 14 Morton Street in Greenwich Village that would
be home for the rest of her life.
Her first chapbook publication, self-published and undated, was
Medusa, a 20-page stapled booklet. Another collection, Return in
Sagittarius, was published in 1965. Another chapbook was A Game of
Scraps (1967). A projected volume of her poems with the photographs
of Donald Curran apparently did not materialize, but the poems alone
appeared in a slender chapbook as Lens, Light, and Sound (1968),
reproduced in the present volume. Other small chapbooks were
Melusine Remembered (1974), On This High Hill (1974), and You Could
Die Laughing (1975).
Holland received a Creative Arts Public Service Fellowship in 1974,
and during the following year was engaged in workshops and visits
with many schools. She was a fellow at the Macdowell Colony in 1976.
She read frequently throughout the Northeast at poetry readings,
guest-edited two issues of Boston’s Stone Soup Poetry journal, and
read her work on radio for WBAI, WRVR, WUWM, and WNYC. She
recorded for Folkways Records and on broadcasts for Voice of America.
The poet was also involved with The New York Poets’ Cooperative,
a writers’ group founded in 1969. A founding member, she organized
and scheduled poetry readings they hosted at St. John’s Church in
Her greatest success was in the then-burgeoning little magazines,
and Holland could boast that her poems had appeared in over 1,000
magazines and publications. She was certainly one of the most-
published American poets of the 1970s and 1980s.
Her association with The Poet’s Press began in 1973 with the
publication of Autumn Wizard, a sampler from her long cycle of poems
inspired by the surrealist painter Rene Magritte. This cycle, Crises of
Rejuvenation, was published by The Poet’s Press, in 1973 and 1974 in
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two volumes, and remains in print in a single-volume 30th anniversary
edition. Other collections of Holland’s work from this publisher
include Burrs (1977), Autumn Numbers (1980), Collected Poems, Volume
1 (1980), In the Shadows (1984), Medusa: The Lost Chapbook (2019),
The Secret Agent (2019), The Beckoning Eye (2019), Out of Avernus
(2019), The Shipping on the Styx (2019), and After Hours in Bohemia
( 2020 ).
Another small press, Warthog Books, issued its own “selected
poems” collection of Holland’s work, Running Backwards (1983).
Holland’s readings of her poems were from memory, even includ¬
ing her longer dramatic pieces. Audiences were riveted by her
performances, whether of the spine-chilling “Black Sabbath,” the
self-effacing humor of “The Inevitable Knife,” or the desolate sorrow
of “Not Now, Wanderer.” Michael Redmond wrote of her in 1981 in The
Newark Star-Ledger, “[S]he is a poet who evades categorization. Her
work has been variously described as romantic, mythic, supernatural
and surreal; she is as adept at evoking a seascape as in creating a
monologue by Medusa. There are city poems, and love poems, and
poems both funny and terrifying. The common denominator is her
extraordinary imagination, the classical precision of her language,
and a wild sense of humor.”
During her last five years, the poet was beset with health prob¬
lems. She had difficulty reading her work, and her performances were
marred by long pauses and memory lapses. After a series of small
strokes, her health deteriorated and she spent some time recovering
at her sister’s home in Philadelphia. Returning to New York, she died
there on September 21, 1988.
Several contemporaneous reviews and essays had acknowledged
Holland’s extraordinary gifts, most notably a long review by Stephen-
Paul Martin in Central Park (1981), and a symposium issue on the poet
in Contact II (1979), but Holland never achieved the fame she richly
Commentary about Holland, including interviews, can be found
For those who heard her, or who have collected her books,
Holland remains a vital voice. She is still whispered about as “the Sybil
of Greenwich Village.”
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ABOUT THIS BOOK
The body text for this book is Cheltenham, a typeface designed
in 1896 by architect Bertram Goodhue and printer Ingalis Kimball.
The fully-developed typeface was designed by Morris Fuller Benton
at American Typefounders and released in hot metal in 1902. Until
the 1930s it was a dominant type for headlines, and its legibility and
character made it a popular face in Arts and Crafts publications,
including those of The Roycrofters. It is still employed for headlines
by The New York Times. The digital version employed in this book is
ITC Cheltenham, designed in 1975 by Tony Stan for International
Poem titles are set in Schneidler Black, designed by F. H. Ernst
Schneidler for the German Bauer type foundry in the 1930s.
The title-page border and the block initials are from the press of
Alessandro Paganini, son of the Renaissance Venetian printer Pagan-
ino Paganini (c. 1450-1538). This border was probably designed and
printed in his shop in a monastery on Isola del Garda. Block initials
are also by Paganini, using the same kind of arabesque design. Since
the letter “W” does not exist in Latin or Italian, The Poet’s Press
designed its own letter “W” to complete the available alphabet.
Other historical ornamental borders in this book are from Renais¬
sance French printers.
The cumulative effect of this mixture of type, initials and borders
is to simulate the production of a letterpress shop, whose compositor
might employ, according to his own sense of balance and proportion,
whatever materials were at hand, in this case spanning more than 400
years of printing history.
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